We are one week into rehearsal and have already shed many a tear and broke into many a giggling fit. In other words, things are going well.
Sunday was our marathon script session with read throughs of both plays and since then we've been dropping in scenes from the first acts of both Hamlet and Twelfth Night. Dropping in is a rehearsal technique used by Shakespeare & Co. that is an alternate way of doing text work. It stimulates the imagination and encourages a profound emotional connection to the words. The ground of the text becomes very real beneath you as does your relationships, questions are illuminated, it's just a tremendously creative way to work. Another thing about the work - there are ghosts in the room - I'm not just talking about the Ghost of Hamlet's father - there are the ghosts of past productions of the plays. There are moments I flash back to the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express touring production that I saw around age 8 or 9 and Ophelia handing out floors as she descended the stairs of the auditorium in Thomas Harrison Middle School. There is the memory of assistant directing the show in high school and the Ghost's distorted voice and all the gun play in our modernized Denmark, and most present of all is the production I directed for Pittsburgh Classic Players back in 2013, I've promised the actors not to talk too much about my last Hamlet, I think they know though that I am doing Hamlet again not to get back to any of those prior Hamlets, no it's that my belief in the vitality of the play is that strong, I could do it twenty times and still have things to find. Meanwhile, over in Illyria where I have fewer experiences though Avital Shira's production for Portland Actors Ensemble a few years back as well as the one from the American Shakespeare Center's Actor's Renaissance Season in 2010 are fond touchstones, I am amazed at how the plays enrich each other. I have always felt the best Twelfth Night's have a tragic tone underneath the comedy as characters like Sir Toby cannot function without drink, as characters like Malvolio seethe with resentment over their rank and all that remains out of their reach, as Orsino struggles to understand love and accept age, as Olivia and Viola mourn for their respective brothers, and as the sad fool returns to his household.
The first day of rehearsal is finally here. It is a little like the first day of school except ten thousand times better.
Today I get to hear the cast read two of Shakespeare's very best plays aloud and get a fuller sense who they are in these parts, what they discover in the words, there will be shades of meaning that never occurred to me and old familiar notes that are a treasure to experience again. It will be the first time we are together and is so often the case with a large ensemble rehearsing over the summer - the last time we will all be met for awhile.
It will also be the first time in the rehearsal space, a beautiful sun filled artist studio on the second story of a converted warehouse out near the train tracks in Portland's Northwest Industrial district. It's a Frida Kahlo blue building with a red rusted gate. A David Bowie poster hangs in the bathroom. It's perfect. Rent for the space is a little less than what we have already raised through the fundraiser and that is a sigh of relief. (And on the subject of fundraisers, there are sixteen days left on ours and Salt and Sage has a little over half of the way to go. Subtle, I know.) Places to play are hard to find in Portland these days and places to prepare even harder. It will be nice not to have to hop from one spot to another each rehearsal as I'd originally imagined. Having a room where the small library of concordances and editions of each play can be left along with a chest of props and cups for tea is going to take a lot of stress out of the marathon that is rehearsing two plays in repertory while also maintaining full time employment outside of the arts.
Hamlet and Twelfth Night are going to be such a joy to explore and share with Portland audiences. Even though one may have seen both several times over, the two plays together spark a different understanding as the two reverberate within one another: Malvolio's imprisonment and Hamlet's suspected madness; Viola's loss of her brother, Sebastian, and Laertes' loss of his sister, Ophelia, the strong widows, Olivia and Gertrude. Over the last few weeks I've binged Mozart in the Jungle and directing Shakespeare feels very akin to conducting classical music in that yes you are participating in a lineage that stretches back hundreds of years but as long as you and the players are passionate about the material; it will be daring as there are only as many ways to experience loss and love as there are to be human.